In 1952, an American attaché in Moscow was innocently fiddling with his shortwave radio when he heard the voice of the American ambassador dictating letters in the Embassy, just a few buildings away. He immediately reported the incident, but though the Americans tore the walls out of the Ambassador’s office, they weren’t able to find a listening device.
When the broadcasts kept coming, the Americans flew in two technical experts with special radio finding equipment, who meticulously examined each object in the Ambassador’s office. They finally tracked the signal to this innocuous giant wooden sculpture of the Great Seal of the United States, hanging behind the Ambassador’s desk. It had been given as a gift by the Komsomol, the Soviet version of the Boy Scouts.
Cracking it open, they found a hollow cavity and a metal object so unusual and mysterious in its design that it has gone down in history as ‘The Thing’.
‘The Thing’ had no battery, no wires, no source of power at all. It was was just a little can of metal covered on one side with foil, with a long metal whisker sticking out the side. It seemed too simple to be anything.
That night the American technician slept with ‘The Thing’ under his pillow. The next day they smuggled it out of the country for analysis.
The Americans couldn’t figure out how ‘The Thing’ worked, and had to ask the British for help. After a few weeks of fiddling, the Brits finally cracked The Thing’s secret.
That little round can was a resonant cavity. If you shone a beam of radio waves at it at a particular frequency, it would sing back to you, like a tuning fork. The metal antenna was just the right length to broadcast back one of the higher harmonics of the signal.
The resonator sat right behind a specially thinned piece of wood under the eagle’s beak. When someone in the room spoke, vibrations in the air would shake the foil, slightly deforming the cavity, which in turn made the resonant signal weaker or stronger.
As the attaché discovered, you could listen to this modulated signal on a radio just like a regular broadcast. ‘The Thing’ was a wireless, remotely powered microphone. It had been hanging on the ambassador’s wall for seven years.
Today we have a name for what ‘The Thing’ is: It’s an RFID tag, ingeniously modified to detect sound vibrations. Our world is full of these little pieces of metal and electronics that will sing back to you if you shine the right kind of radio waves on them.
But for 1952, this was heady stuff. Those poor American spooks were up against a piece of science fiction.
Today I want to talk about these moments when the future falls in our laps, with no warning or consideration about whether we’re ready to confront it.
Another amazing talk by the creator of Pinboard. I first heard Maciej speak at XOXO, he blew me away. This transcript of his Webstock talk was also amazing.
The amazing story of “The Thing” that eavesdropped on the US ambassador to Moscow for seven years.
Most mad scientists in movies are actually just mad engineers
It’s always “I’ll use this gigantic laser to blow up the moon”, and never “I’ll test the effect this gigantic laser has on the moon, my hypothesis is that it will blow up”
“I’m going to test the effects of deadly neurotoxin on the island of Manhattan. The control group will be Long Island, which I will not release deadly neurotoxin upon.”
the fact that the real world could have involved dragons, unicorns, magic, time travel and insane adventures but instead has things like taxes is why i read so much
This lizard shoots blood out of its eyes to deter predators
THERE IS WATER AT THE BOTTOM OF THE OCEAN
CARRY THE WATER
REMOVE THE WATER
Actually! This was a very clever setup by a team of divers in the Arctic, I believe. The person is upside down, their bouyancy belt calibrated just so that they are slightly lighter than water, and able to walk upside down on the ice. In the first segment, when his mask vents, watch the bubbles flow DOWNWARD, which is really the up that we know. Science is really fricking cool!
I LOVE YOU MAKEITEARLGRAY
Oumjrane Mine, Alnif, Tarhbalt, Er Rachidia Province, Meknès-Tafilalet Region, Morocco
I could never dream to make anything from the earth more beautiful than this.
Dilation and constriction of these organelles, called chromatophores, are responsible for the squid’s ability to change color.
Inside Nature’s Giants: The Giant Squid (2010)
Fairy rings occupy a prominent place in European folklore as the location of gateways into elfin kingdoms, or places where elves gather and dance. According to the folklore, a fairy ring appears when a fairy, pixie, or elf appears. It will disappear without trace in less than five days, but if an observer waits for the elf to return to the ring, he or she may be able to capture it. They are soooooo beautiful!
fairy rings are usually caused by decaying organic matter, generally a tree stump. many types of fungi have symbiotic relationships with tree roots and mushrooms are the fruiting bodies of such fungus. So if a huge old tree was cut down, you’ll often find fairy rings. they can last for years and years as the earth reabsorbs all the nutrients left behind by the beautiful tree.
sorry, didn’t mean to crush dreams - but i have a degree in horticulture and i was really excited when i first learned this.
maybe fairies and fungi are joining together to mourn the loss of the tree
NO BUT FINDING OUT ABOUT WHY FAIRY RINGS EXIST IS ALSO REALLY COOL.
From a writer’s perspective, it’s even more interesting to find out why they exist on a horticultural level, because it opens up a whole realm of fictional possibilities. Science doesn’t have to invalidate mythology or fiction, no more than mythology or fiction invalidates science.
For example, doesn’t that just essentially make this a tree grave? And if folklore has taught us anything, it’s that “fairies” and other spirits usually occupy trees, or have them as their life force. And that’s to say nothing of the folklore of trees being spirits in and of themselves, or kitsunes that live in tree hollows, or dryads, etc., etc.. So, if it’s disrespectful or feels like a slight to step on human graves, wouldn’t that logic transfer to stepping inside the Fairy Circle, AKA, the tree’s grave? It’s essentially giving more fuel to the story, not detracting from it, in my humble opinion!Science doesn’t have to invalidate mythology or fiction, no more than mythology or fiction invalidates science.
WHAT IF MY COLORS ARE DIFFERENT THAN YOUR COLORS
They are, because people having varying numbers of Rods and cones in their eyes, it causes people to see colours differently.
Also there is a theory that everyone sees, for example, the colour red differently eg Red=yellow, but because we’ve been taught that, that specific colour is red, no one knows if everyone is seeing the same colour as another person.
I just got back from a lecture about research findings from the International Space Station and here are some things I learned:
- Some pathogens like salmonella increase in virulence when exposed to microgravity. In addition, some astronauts experience suppressed immunity.
- Secondary “cool…
More on the Lactose Intolerance Issue….
In the West we take milk drinking for granted because most people of European decent are able to produce the enzyme lactase in adulthood and so digest the milk sugar lactose. However, this is not the norm in much of the world, and was not the norm for our Stone Age ancestors. In fact, genetic data has shown that the ability of adults to produce the enzyme lactase has only evolved within the last ten thousand years under strong natural selection. Without this enzyme, consuming milk can lead to some unpleasant side effects like bloating, cramps, flatulence and diarrhea — a condition known as lactose intolerance.
In the journal Molecular Biology and Evolution, Oddný Sverrisdóttir of the Evolutionary Biology Centre at Uppsala University, and colleagues, have taken a closer look at why lactase persistance was such an advantage to our ancestors. They believe that the driving force of the dramatic evolution was not just a need for calcium and vitamin D but a need to eat lactase rich foods during famine conditions.
O. O. Sverrisdottir, A. Timpson, J. Toombs, C. Lecoeur, P. Froguel, J. M. Carretero, J. L. Arsuaga Ferreras, A. Gotherstrom, M. G. Thomas. Direct estimates of natural selection in Iberia indicate calcium absorption was not the only driver of lactase persistence in Europe. Molecular Biology and Evolution, 2014; DOI: 10.1093/molbev/msu049
An excavation of Neolithic human remains at the Portalon cave. (Credit: Javier Trueba (Madrid Scientific Films))